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Week in Iowa, Jan. 23, 2023: Recap of news from across the state
Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Jan. 29, 2023 6:00 am
Private school assistance program now law: All public school students and thousands of private school students will soon be eligible for $7,598 in a state-funded education savings account that can be used on private school tuition and related costs after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed her chief legislative priority into law Tuesday.
Democrats said the law would siphon money out of public schools, fund non-accountable private institutions, and argued private schools could turn away students with disabilities. Proponents said the law will allow parents to choose the education that is best for their children.
Heightened penalties for drug sale resulting in death: It would be a Class B felony to deliver an illegal drug to someone if it results in their death under a bill proposed by Republican Attorney General Brenna Bird. The bill would address what Bird said is an imbalance in how the law treats such cases, as there isn't currently a higher charge if a drug sale results in a death.
Bill creating rural emergency hospitals advances: Iowa lawmakers advanced a bill this past week that would allow rural hospitals to discontinue inpatient care and focus on providing outpatient services and emergency medical care through a standalone emergency room. It also increases Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates for patients treated at those facilities. The bill will bring Iowa in line with a 2021 federal law championed by Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Republicans limit SNAP benefits, will allow meat: Lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday placing limitations on the food assistance program known as SNAP. The bill would require extra identity verification, require the state to examine records to ensure eligibility, and require recipients to work at least 20 hours a week.
The bill as written bars SNAP recipients from buying fresh meat, nuts and many cooking essentials, but Republicans say they plan to amend it to allow most of the foods back into the program, excluding candy and soda. Proponents of the bill said it would place a limit on state expenses for the program, but opponents said it was overly burdensome to low-income Iowans requiring food assistance.
Party leaders urge continued fight for caucuses: A bipartisan group of former party leaders urged Iowa Democrats to continue fighting to keep Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. Former Iowa Democratic Party Chairman David Nagle said Iowa Democrats should go first in the presidential nominating contest regardless of the calendar the national party approves. The Democratic National Committee will meet next month to vote on a new calendar that excludes Iowa from the early window, and they're expected to pass the measure.
Tenure prohibition proposal stalls in House: A proposal to prohibit tenure at Iowa's public universities will once again be shelved after the lawmaker who proposed it decided against advancing it. But in the Senate, a lawmaker who has proposed the measure in the past said he would introduce legislation that would require universities to more frequently review tenured faculty.
They said ...
“For the first time, we’re funding students instead of a system. We’re rejecting the idea that the answer to improving education is simply throwing more money into the same system.” — Gov. Kim Reynolds before signing her private school assistance bill.
"They are pouring taxpayer dollars into private schools that will not help all Iowa kids, and it will hurt our public schools and rural communities.“ Democratic Sen. Zach Wahls on Reynolds' private school assistance bill.
Odds and ends
Lawmakers request report on college terms: House Republicans advanced a bill that would require Iowa's public universities' education colleges to create a report defining a list of terms that are taught in those colleges. Terms include “culturally responsive classroom,” “anti-racist and anti-oppressive teaching and learning” and “compulsory heterosexuality."
Black bear protections proposed: Lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a crime to shoot and kill a black bear in Iowa. Black bears are not common in the state, but they occasionally wander in from neighboring states and the Department of Natural Resources expects their population will grow in the near future.
COVID cases fall: Iowa's COVID-19 cases continued to fall in the week ending Wednesday. There were 1,566 new cases reported, down from 1,690 the previous week. There were 154 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, down from 177 the previous week.
Recall elections possible: Iowa lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to recall an elected official. A petition with a set number of signatures would need to be filed before a special election would be held to recall the official. The amendment would need to pass in the Legislature twice and pass a popular vote before becoming law.